A while back, a fair amount of dissatisfaction with the SP system had been expressed in this thread. I appreciate those who those who have proposed reasonable alternatives, including TRSPs and the sum of winning and losing points. Given that the name SP is intended to represent “strength of schedule points”, a system that truly represents strength of schedule as accurately as possible is desirable.
While I don’t have an issue with changing this particular rule, I must admit that I have some discomfort with the direction that a rule change like this (and other trends) could bring. Until the 2009 season, SP’s were originally called RP’s (rank points), and were simply a means of ranking teams when multiple teams had the same number of QP’s. The original game descriptions never explicitly stated why the losing alliance’s points were chosen as a tie-breaker, but teams inferred that it was a way to reward alliances that beat high-scoring teams (implying a stronger win), but also to encourage offense over defense, which gives a psychological boost to lower-level teams (“we didn’t win, but at least we scored decently”). While using the difference between winner’s and loser’s points would have been more representative of a team’s true strength, the idea of sacrificing “truer representation” for “bringing up the bottom” was one that seemed to be acceptable, based on the lack of complaints during those early years (2005-2008).
While using random means to narrow the gap between the top and bottom performers may not seem sensible, most enjoyable games do this all the time. There are games of pure skill like chess, which very few players have the skill to enjoy. In contrast, “lame” kids games (like Candyland), are pure randomness and can be played by anyone, but honestly aren’t fun. The “best” games (like Risk or card games) include some element of chance (dice, cards), but heavily favor those who have acquired a certain level of skill. These games appeal to a larger segment of the population than chess, because those who make a lesser investment can still enjoy the game, but it’s clear that those who “advance to the big leagues” are those who invest the time to become “experts”.
VRC’s Driver Skills and Programming Skillls Challenges are “pure skill”. In contrast, the VRC game’s primary randomizer is the alliance system, and the scouting process already compensates for the randomness to some degree. Good teams have employed strategies to further compensate for the uncertainties caused by randomness, like farming SP’s and protecting goals. The $64K question is, “Should the VRC Game also trend toward ‘pure skill’ with randomization reduced or even eliminated?”
A “yes” is more beneficial to high-level teams, and a “no” is more appealing to low-level ones. While this doesn’t necessarily make a “yes” answer wrong (no one wants a lame, totally random game), my concern is that disproportionate attention to the concerns of high-level teams while ignoring lower-level ones will push a certain demographic out of the Vex community. Some of my Vex teams have been “home” to some unlikely students: kids with disabilities, kids who go hungry, kids who never had a close friend or family member graduate from high school. And some of those kids have been accepted to 4-year universities. Unfortunately, each year, it gets harder to recruit and keep students because it’s harder to “stay with the pack”.
Perhaps it would be reasonable to have one set of rules for regional events and slightly different ones for Nationals and Worlds. Ultimately, a program needs to serve the students it has, and the teams that advance will probably have different needs the ones that don’t.
There may come a time when I don’t have a team because teams like mine can’t keep up with the pace, but I think something of value will be lost when that time comes.